Fr. Joseph Hertel, OFM
One of the things that has always fascinated me about these first person stories is the number of my brother friars who have had no contact with other friars before entering the Order. This certainly was not my experience. My life has been touched by so many marvelous friars that as I try to tell my story I must mention some of them also. The first friar I knew was a “Guild Friar,” Fr. Francis Jerome Doughaen, OFM. Our families were neighbors, and he would always make it a point to stop and chat with the youngsters on our block whenever he visited his own family.
Our parish, St. Bonaventure in Paterson, was staffed by the friars. Having finished our local St. Bonaventure Grammar and High School, I was told by one of the parish friars that St. Bonaventure College in Allegany, N.Y., was the only choice for college. While in my freshman year, Fr. Juvenal Ellis, OFM, simply asked me one day when was I going to go to Callicoon, site of our minor seminary then. I hadn’t really thought about it but promised him I would. I’m glad I did, and I thank God every day for the gentle question and loving persuasion of Fr. Juvenal.
In 1959, I entered the seminary. Our pastor at the time, Fr. Joseph Kennedy, OFM, insisted that none of his boys would go to Callicoon without himself as our personal escort on the day we were to report. Fr. Brice Leavins, OFM, Fr. Severin Brady, OFM, and I were proudly taken to Callicoon by Fr. Joseph on that September day. He stood by us with his prayers and support during our formation years and stood next to each of us as we returned to St. Bonaventure for our first Masses.
I had always wanted to get involved with Spanish ministry and in 1966, after ordination, my first assignment was to our missions in Puerto Rico where I remained for almost eight years. Certainly there were many funny and several frustrating moments as I struggled to learn the language. But through it all, the parishioners showed tremendous patience and love. In Puerto Rico, lay involvement in ministry was encouraged and fostered immediately following the Second Vatican Council. One of my fondest memories of Puerto Rico is to recall both the admonition and invitation expressed so often by our parishioners: “You are part of our family.”
My new series of assignments took me to the Bronx and New Jersey, where I served as pastor of our parishes. One of my greatest thrills was being asked to be the pastor of my home parish of St. Bonaventure — and, yes, also pastor to my mother and father. It is a lesson in humility when you know your mom or dad are listening to every homily or when one of the senior parishioners reminds you, “Joey, I knew you when.”
Much as l loved being in parishes, in 1985 I was asked to work with Fr. Finian Kerwin, OFM, in the Franciscan Missionary Union. I knew of the work of the FMU and was supported by them during my time in Puerto Rico. The years that I spent working for the FMU gave me a greater insight into our common missionary vocation and the process of evangelization. Fr. Finian was a master teacher and a gentle mentor.
In 1992, I was asked to be the pastor and guardian of St. Francis, 31st Street, in New York City. The past few years have been very challenging and rewarding. There are so many people whose lives are touched by ministry at St. Francis. But more importantly, I was constantly renewed and inspired as I saw God’s love in action in so many ways each day.
Finally, this journey has now brought me to my new assignment as director of St. Anthony’s Guild. I am fully aware of the good work done by Fr. Kevin in his years as director, and I hope and pray that I will be able to continue it and strengthen it. I am encouraged by a note sent into the office by one of our members which said, “I knew his mother, he can’t be too bad.” I hope not! Please pray for me as I begin this new ministry with each of you, our loyal members of the Guild.
— This essay was written in 1996 when Fr. Joe was appointed Director of St. Anthony’s Guild. It appeared in the September 1996 issue of The Anthonian magazine.